September 23 2023 11:37 AM E-paper Newsletter Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Children and the power of mindfulness

Recent studies have shown that using mindfulness as a technique can help children and adolescents cope better with their negative feelings and stressors in their lives. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Children today have many reasons to feel anxious and stressed: heavy school work, busy schedules filled with activities and extracurriculars, creating friendships, and other daily social pressures, not to mention the devastating effects the pandemic has had on children’s physical and mental health. اضافة اعلان

According to a study published by Pew Research Center, around 61 percent of teenagers feel pressured to achieve good grades, and 29 percent feel pressured to look a certain way in order to fit in socially.

All these pressures combined lead to increased rates of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents, whose mental health is becoming an increasing concern globally, for parents and educators alike. However, recent studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help children and adolescents better cope with their negative feelings and stressors in their lives.

While mindfulness might not come naturally to most children, it can be taught and incorporated into their daily lives, and over time children will be able to recognize negative thinking patterns, self-regulate, and improve behavior.

What is mindfulness?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, mindfulness is “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm”. To put it in a more simplified manner, mindfulness is the exact opposite of multitasking. It is when you dedicate your entire self to paying attention to one thing and not thinking about anything else in that moment.

When you are mindful, you begin to slow down and take notice of what you are doing, how you are behaving, and what you are feeling. It can be as simple as just focusing on your breath. Teaching mindfulness to children with allow them to take their time and focus on being relaxed and stress free through a combination of breathing exercises, relaxation, body awareness, and visualization.

What the research says
Most studies regarding mindfulness have been conducted with adults in focus, and there is reasonably strong evidence for its positive impact on a wide range of mental and physical health conditions, social and emotional well-being, as well as on cognition and learning.

A report from the University of Exeter stated that some studies that used brain imaging and neuroscience have shown evidence that practicing mindfulness has the ability to reliably and profoundly alter the structure and function of the brain, in order to improve the quality of a person’s thoughts and feelings.

When parents practice mindfulness, they are also better prepared to handle situations that require patience and clear thinking. A study published in The Journal of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses looked at the role of mindfulness on psychological distresses experienced by Jordanian parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. The study found that mindfulness was significantly associated with reducing levels of anxiety, stress, and depression in parents.

Despite research on children not being as extensive as on adults, many emerging studies are now focused on finding a correlation between mindfulness and improving child behavior and focus.

A recent review of multiple individual studies published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health that involved looking at school-aged children with a range of mental and physical health problems at home, school, and clinical settings found that mindfulness can contribute directly to the development of children’s cognitive and performance skills, as well as of their executive function. In addition, it has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, bad behavior, aggressiveness, and improve sleep.

This is especially true for children who learn and think differently, or are more anxious or impulsive. Kids who struggle in school due to having negative experiences, and who might feel defeated, can use mindfulness to stay focused and move past negative experiences with minimal damage.

Why are there benefits to mindfulness?
Childhood is a key developmental stage for any human being, and what happens during those years will lay the foundation of that person’s future mental health. Therefore, it is advisable to introduce mindfulness to children at a very young age where they can practice and perfect their own style of mindfulness that suits them best and allows them to cope with frustrations and help them focus their attention on something specific without allowing any distractions to derail them. This practice can be very beneficial for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder  that affects a child’s ability to stay still and pay attention.

Mindfulness is when you dedicate your entire self to paying attention to one thing and not thinking about anything else in that moment. (Photo: Envato Elements)

In terms of cognitive benefits, mindfulness can impact a child’s executive functions that are responsible for his ability to pay attention, switch focus, remember details, plan effectively, and organize information. This can be especially helpful when implemented into school programs, to allow students to focus on the task at hand and eventually enhance their performs, whether in sports, arts, or academics. This means less visits to the principal’s office, improved attendance, and decreased amount of bullying in school.

Practicing mindfulness also has many emotional benefits for children who can use it as a tool to improve their self-esteem, as well as their general sense of well-being. It can help them relieve anxiety and stress, as well as help deter mental health issues such as depression, and improve their social interactions. When a child learns to be mindful, he becomes more optimistic and feels calmer because he ultimately gains a better understanding of how his brain works, leading to a deeper understanding of who he is as a person.

As for social benefits, mindfulness teaches a child to pause in all types of situations and respond in a thoughtful, calculated manner, rather than simply react on impulse, which can lead to problems adjusting to the environment. When children begin to think before they act, the positive effects begin to snowball; it teaches them compassion and empathy, thus nurturing mutual respect and care.

Tips to practicing mindfulness
It is important for parents to remember that the purpose of mindfulness is to reduce stress, therefore it should be avoided as a disciplinary tool. In addition, it is important to set a time each day to practice mindfulness in a calm, positive environment that encourages its practice.

It is also important to practice mindfulness with your children or your students, not only to model positive behavior but also for yourself. Mindfulness is a tool meant for all ages and it ensures that you are a more present figure in the child’s conversations and daily life.

Movement can also be incorporated into mindfulness, especially for younger children who might find it hard at first to remain still for a prolonged period of time. It can be through walking meditation or performing gentle yoga or any other movement that a child feels will improve her ability to practice it sincerely. Words of affirmation can also be a part of mindfulness, and are a great way to ingrain positive messages in your child’s brain.

If your child has trouble remembering how and/or why she is practicing mindfulness, it is possible for you to use acronyms to remind her of its steps. Such as STOP, where S stands for stopping to take a moment no matter what you are doing; T stands for taking a breath and bringing yourself back to the present moment; O stands for observing and acknowledging what is going on around you and inside you, no matter good or bad; P for when you can proceed to whatever you were doing after you have taken a moment to step back and reflect.

Overall, mindfulness is a free trick with countless benefits that will allow your child to reflect on his own thoughts and behavior, as well as to learn how to make better choices. It will teach children to observe and digest everything going on around them without letting it consume them negatively. That way, they are no longer simply reacting, but rather responding thoughtfully and purposefully.

When your child finally understands that he can be in charge of his reactions and can accept his feelings and thoughts as passing sensations through his body, not only will he make better choices, he will also be happier.

Read more Education
Jordan News